Holidaymakers said they are “delighted” to have boarded the first flights to Portugal as travel restrictions were eased for people in England and Wales on Monday.
The first day of leisure travel to a handful of Government-approved countries has seen key workers jetting off on beach holidays, Britons reunited with partners abroad, and passengers finally being allowed to fly after facing months of cancellations due to coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the chief executives of easyJet and Gatwick Airport have urged the Prime Minister to add more popular European holiday destinations to the green list as soon as possible.
At Gatwick Airport, restaurant manager Amanda Brown said it felt “amazing” to be able to see her boyfriend, who lives in Portugal, after eight months apart and six flight cancellations, as she boarded the first flight to Faro early on Monday morning.
Ms Brown, 48, said: “I’m so excited – I didn’t sleep properly last night. So yeah, it’s amazing, I love it, it’s really good to see everything going back to some kind of normality.
“I’m planning to go to the beach and seeing my boyfriend. I haven’t seen him since October.”
She added: “I found it quite easy going through the airport, no queues or anything really.
“There’s a bit of anxiety on the build-up because obviously you have to take a test before you go, it was a bit anxious waiting for the result to come back through.”
Royal Mail postman Gary Underdown, 33, said he was “shocked” at how quickly he and his family got through airport security on the morning of their flight.
Travelling with partner Georgina Raven, who also works for Royal Mail, and their young son, he said: “We can’t wait to get there, we’ve been waiting a long time.”
When asked what they plan to do in Faro, he said: “Not a lot. We’re key workers, we work for Royal Mail, we’ve been working a lot and very hard for the last year so we just want a break.”
He added: “I was shocked, we got here really early expecting the six-hour queues, and we walked straight to the front, straight through and sat there for three-and-a-half hours waiting.”
Kevin Nash, 66, a company chairman, travelling with his wife Pauline, both from Essex, said: “We’re very excited to go on holiday… this is the first time we’ve booked and it’s the first flight out, so we’re delighted – and it’s been a long, cold winter at home so we’re looking forward to it.”
When asked what they planned to do in Faro, he said: “Open the doors of our villa and look out to sea and just go ‘Ahhh’.”
Ms Nash, a housewife, 54, added: “And then get a cocktail.
“It’s just the freedom again to be able to do this – and it feels safe.”
Another passenger, property developer Essy Kamaie, added he was “excited” to travel abroad after having a previous holiday cancelled, and booked his ticket only two hours before the flight.
Speaking on the Gatwick Airport runway, easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said the Government should add “most of Europe” to the travel green list as soon as possible.
Mr Lundgren said: “I am optimistic because the latest data that is available means that most of Europe could actually go on to that green list of destinations, and I urge the Government to look at and exercise that data.
“That is what I’m expecting to happen, because that is what’s happening as we speak right now in the rest of Europe.
“Otherwise the Germans are going to beat the Brits to the sun loungers and for no good reason at all.”
Mr Lundgren suggested prices of flights to green list countries will not be raised in the coming months.
Gatwick Airport chief executive Stewart Wingate said he expects the numbers of holidaymakers to increase tenfold by the end of May.
He said: “If you look at the passenger volumes travelling through the airport, over the last few weeks we’ve had no more than 2,000 passengers travelling through the airport per day, but normally in pre-pandemic times we would have had 150,000 passengers travelling through the airport on a daily basis.
“As I look towards the end of May, as we start to see an increased number of flights, we expect to see about 20,000 passengers per day by the end of May.”
He added that passengers should expect “very high levels of hygiene” including “ultraviolet cleaning of the security trays” and “passengers and staff wearing face masks”.
Travel firms have reported a surge in demand for trips to Portugal, after the Government put the country on its green list for travel meaning people travelling from England and Wales will not need to self-isolate on their return, and are only required to take one post-arrival test.
Only a dozen countries and territories are on the green list but most are either remote islands or do not currently allow UK tourists to enter.